Debbie Friedman, lesbian who composed prayer of healing used in service for Giffords, dies

Monday evening, as I drove home from work, I was listening to All Things Considered on KERA 90.1 radio. They were, as you would expect, talking about the shootings Saturday in Tucson. The announcer segued from one segment to another by noting that Congregation Chaverim, the reform synagogue of which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a member, had held a service in which they prayed for healing for the congresswoman injured in the assassination attempt.

Debbie Friedman

One of the prayers the congregation sang, the announcer said, was the Mi Shebeirach, a prayer for healing by Debbie Friedman, who translated the words and wrote the music. There was a particular line that really caught my attention: “May the source of strength, who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing. And let us say Amen.”

That was, to me, such a beautiful piece of poetry that I posted it as my status on Facebook.

What made it even more poignant was the fact that Friedman died Sunday, Jan. 9, of complications from pneumonia. She was, according to The New York Times (free subscription), “credited with helping give ancient liturgy broad appeal to late-20th-century worshippers.”

That’s when my co-worker, David Taffet, stepped in to explain to me that Friedman was a lesbian, and that her music is very popular not only in Reform Judaism congregations, but also in some Conservative and Modern Orthodox congregations — and even, according to The New York Times, in some Christian congregations.

David also told me that Mi Shebeirach (though not necessarily Friedman’s version) started to become popular as a prayer of healing in Reform congregations with large LGBT memberships in the 1980s in response to the AIDS epidemic. (He also acknowledged that mainstream congregations might argue with that, but insisted he is right — as usual.) Not being Jewish nor ever having attended a Jewish service, I had never heard the prayer. And so it’s simple beauty really touched me when I heard Friedman singing it on the radio last night, especially since it was sung for Congresswoman Giffords and that Friedman had died the day after the congresswoman was shot.

So now, I have learned something new about my LGBT community. It’s just too bad, I think, that I learned it so late.

—  admin

A day of tolerance begins at the Holocaust Museum and ends at the Resource Center

Fred Phelps

The Dallas Holocaust Museum has asked Dallas Holocaust survivors to stay home for the day on Friday, July 9. But the museum will open its doors free beginning at 1 p.m.

The Fred Phelps clan of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., is scheduled to picket the museum at 2:15 p.m. WBC’s picket schedule also includes a number of other stops around Dallas this weekend targeting the Jewish community.

Laura Martin, the Dallas Police Department’s liaison to the LGBT community, asked people not to engage the Phelps clan. They make their money suing anyone and everyone — including the police, she said.

Holocaust Museum President Alice Murray agreed.

“We do not want to legitimatize the hatred of a small number of people who comprise this group by inadvertently providing fodder for media coverage,” she said.

The museum will be open with docents promoting its mission of tolerance and be selling its “upstander” T-shirts.

Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas said donations have been pouring in for “Hell Freezes Over,” the counterprotest fundraiser to replace the Center’s ice maker. He expects the new Westboro Baptist Church Memorial Ice Maker to be fully funded by Friday evening.

The Phelps gang is expected to gather near the Center at 6:15 p.m. The parking lots will be blocked off so McDonnell recommends street parking.

McDonnell said someone will have a stop watch and a horn. After one minute, he said, the horn will blow and people will throw money into a Pride flag. Each minute Phelps protests, more money will be raised.

“Bring lots of singles,” he said.

Bottled water and Fig Newtons will be served. “Figs” refers to a biblical quote Phelps used to denounce Dallas’ Jewish community.

The target of the evening Phelps protest is Congregation Beth El Binah, a Reform synagogue that meets at the Resource Center. (Full disclosure: I am a member of Congregation Beth El Binah and received the original fax from the Phelps gang about their impending visit).

Beth El Binah’s services will be held on a normal schedule. Everyone is welcome. Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor conducts services that last about an hour beginning at 7:30 p.m.

—  David Taffet